$32B House Interior, EPA spending bill faces veto threat


WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided House is about to pass a $32 billion spending bill for the Interior Department and environmental regulations as Congress prepares to exit Washington for a seven-week recess, but the move seems to do little to advance GOP leaders’ hopes of fixing the Capitol’s shattered budget process.

The measure, now slated for a vote Thursday, is laced with a wish-list of GOP provisions to roll back Obama administration clean air and water regulations and faces a White House veto threat. Its advance comes as the GOP-controlled Congress is about to take a vacation extended by unusually early national political conventions.

GOP efforts to restart the annual budget process hang by a thread, pointing to yet another take-it-or-leave-it trillion-dollar-plus bill this fall to keep the government open weeks before the election. Wednesday’s measure would be just the fifth of the 12 spending measures to clear the House. In the Senate, an effort by majority Republicans to revive debates on the measures — which had languished under Democratic control of the chamber — hasn’t gone as well as hoped.

Democrats are poised on Thursday to again block the advance of the annual Pentagon spending measure over fears that Republicans would boost defense while keeping domestic programs frozen. And a much-needed bill to battle the Zika virus faces a Democratic filibuster Thursday as well over a GOP provision that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving anti-Zika funding.

“When they were in the majority, they didn’t want to pass appropriations bills. When they were in the minority, they don’t want to pass appropriations bills,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has been frustrated in his efforts to move the measures through. “I gave it every opportunity this year to succeed. We have spent weeks and weeks and weeks trying to get a regular order of process on appropriations through the Senate.”

The House measure, likely to pass late Wednesday, is red meat for conservatives seeking to take a whack at the Environmental Protection Agency, but its passage would run into a veto threat from President Barack Obama and a certain filibuster from Senate Democrats.

The Interior and EPA funding bill is part of the $1 trillion-plus budget for day-to-day agency operations. In the past, Congress has devoted much of the spring and summer to passing the 12 individual spending bills, but divided government between the Obama administration and Republicans controlling Congress has produced lowest-common-denominator catchall spending bills that offend both right and left.

The House measure would block EPA rules on coal-fired power plants and clean water rules involving coal operations. The Obama administration has successfully used veto threats to strip such provisions in the past. The GOP measure also cuts the budget of the EPA, an agency loathed by many Republicans.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are poised to vote Thursday to again block bills to finance the fight against the Zika virus and fund the Pentagon for the upcoming budget year. The Zika measure has been hung up over Democratic objections to GOP language that would block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus.

At the same time, Senate Democrats have blocked action on a huge Pentagon spending bill over a move by House Republicans to use accounting moves to add $18 billion to the measure. Democrats say the GOP move would unravel last year’s hard-fought budget deal, which reversed curbs on both Pentagon and domestic accounts.

McConnell is expected to call re-votes Thursday on both the Pentagon and Zika measures as perhaps the final major action before the chamber adjourns for a seven-week summer break.

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